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As Students Get Set For In-Class Return, Those With Vulnerable Family Members Staying Put

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- As many Minnesota students head back to their classrooms this week, there are many families who simply cannot. COVID concerns for a vulnerable family member will keep them home.

WCCO has been documenting the distance-learning journey of some Twin Cities families for more than six months. Liz Collin checked back with the Wong family of White Bear Lake, where the school year will end this spring just as it started.

"I think that's what's causing some of the anxiety and the panic for families like ours, it's like, is there light at the end of the tunnel? We can't see it," mom Zoua Wong said.

It's been a bit like Groundhog Day at the Wongs since last March, with three kids learning at home being the only real option. Daughter Alyssa has Angelman's syndrome, which causes developmental delays and dangerous seizures.

READ MORE: Twin Cities Families Learn To Adjust To 'The New Normal' Of Distance Learning

"Any viral illness will lower her threshold for seizures, so her seizures could happen more frequently when there's a viral illness around," dad Darrell Wong said.

A round in late fall had them calling 911.

"She finally her out of her seizure and they said, 'Should we take her to the hospital?" And we were like, 'No!' for fear of more exposure to things outside," Zoua said.

They are one of many Minnesota families feeling left behind now that some are moving forward. Their eighth-grade son, Jonathan, admits he would like at least some time at school in-person. Still, he knows what's at stake.

Alyssa Wong
Alyssa Wong (credit: CBS)

"While people are still getting vaccinated, there is no vaccine for kids, so I feel like it would be a big risk to just put me out there just so I can go see my friends," Jonathan said.

Second-grader Matthew watches his friends get on the school bus from his window each morning.

"It's sort of sad to see that, but, you know, it's not really a choice for our family," Darrell said.

As for Alyssa, the Wongs worry what all of this inside time will mean long-term.

"She doesn't want to go outside for too long, and I think that's kind of beginning to freak us out, especially for a kiddo that loves people and loves going out," Zoua said.

READ MORE: Parents Of Students With Special Needs Balance School At Home - Again

Her school team is focused on finding creative solutions, as Alyssa tires of online classes.

"I think she's getting more and more frustrated," Zoua said.

Through it all, the Wongs still consider themselves lucky for Zoua to even have the option to leave her career to care for the kids.

"I was able to walk away from a job and give it a go at this home thing," Zoua said. "There are so many families in our situation with children with disabilities who have just given up."

People who may now look to next fall as the new target to get their students back to normal.

"We just want to make sure that kiddos like Alyssa and families like ours are not forgotten," Zoua said.

Since Darrell works in healthcare, he has received both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine. Zoua is eligible as Alyssa's caregiver and will receive her second dose next month.

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